After Hours

Should video games replace books in the classroom?


How many video games do you think it would take to fill an entire year's educational curriculum? This is just one of the questions that would have to be addressed if video games superseded books as the learning medium of choice. Check out this news story: "More video games, fewer books at schools?

According to the article, "Of all of the proposals aimed at improving America's failing schools, there's one idea kids will really like: More video games and fewer books. At least a number of educators hope so, arguing that children would get more excited about school and that video games can present real-life problems to solve."

Indiana University associate professor Sasha Barab says, "I believe in digital media literacy. If we don't make changes in the way we educate our children, they will be left behind in world markets. Right now, I'm not that optimistic about where schools are headed."

Barab is helping develop video games that both teach and entertain. "In one game designed by Barab, the player assumes the role of an investigator seeking to find out why fish are dying in a virtual park. Various theories are offered such as excessive logging or farm fertilizers, and the players share data about water quality and compare hypotheses. If they recommend kicking out the loggers, the park may go bankrupt, giving students a real-world dilemma."  

I'm sure that there are quite a few people (parents) and organizations (book publishers) that pooh-pooh the idea of putting video games in the classroom. However, there are some people who take a middle-of-the-road stance, like Dr. Joshua Freedman, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California. Freedman believes that video games are interactive and can help with spatial concepts, "but there's still a question about the value to the extent that most of the world is not a video game. They're not getting problems in real world situation."  

According to Freedman, "Video games engage children with continuous action, a concept known as 'enthrallment,' that raises the threshold for engagement. It's the equivalent of giving kids a lot of sweets and then wondering why they don't want to eat regular food."

And while studies have shown that video-game playing corresponds to an increase of ADD and aggressive behavior in kids, Freedman says that cause and effect are difficult to prove. "I wouldn't say that using more games in education shouldn't be done, I'm just saying that it should be done with our eyes open."

Do I think that video games belong in the classroom? To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this issue. From a parent's perspective - a parent of a child who absolutely LOVES gaming - I think that video games may possibly be the secret sauce to get some kids (mine included) to care about topics in school that they don't find very interesting. However, I also believe that even the best things (video games in this case) should be consumed in moderation.  

Where do you stand on this issue? Should video games replace books in the classroom? Will a combination of video games and books get kids the most excited about learning? Or is it best to leave video games at the arcade and home?

About

Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the Smartphones and Tablets blogs.

11 comments
techmail
techmail

Games *replace* books? I don't think so - most of the world's knowledgebase requires reading books - even if online. Those who lost out on the wonder of books during their early childhood (blame the parents/grandparents/etc) never learned to visualize or to effectively use their imaginations. If you can't see the rich, 3D word pictures, you may need poorer quality substitutes to see the images; on the other hand, my visualizations don't turn grainy when I turn my head ;-) My 5 year old granddaughter recently asked to learn to read because she wanted more than the 8 books a day that were being read to her. She has also authored her first "book", having dictated it, complete story, beginning, middle, end, named characters, dialogue - and she did the illustrations. Most of the programming tools I use on a regular basis I learned from a book plus hands-on experience: VB, HTML, ASP, SQL Server, and others.

dcrandell
dcrandell

No I don't think that Games should replace Books. The short time that I have been out of school (only a couple years) I have noticed that the younger kids don't have the knowledge to do basic skills. There have been many times that i have been in a store and something goes wrong with the till and they can't manually count out the change, and are absolutely lost without their electronic safety net. In my opinion they should remove some of the technology from the earlier classrooms and start to make kids think and use their minds. In school we had a program that the students found a "code" for that would give you the answer for the tests that we were doing. Did it help us? To pass the test yes, but to learn the stuff no. No software is free of glitches and works perfect. Textbooks on the other hand usually don't give you the answer unless someone else has put it there. If we keep putting technology into the classroom we are going to become so dependant on it that we can't function on our own. Don't make us dependant on something that has to constantly be fixed and upgraded. I am not writing this because I don't like Games I love games but they can't be the entire focus of someones education. You can't learn if there is a way that it will just give you the answer.

Steffi28
Steffi28

It seems like a good idea as long as they are in moderation, the example given of the game is a good idea, a child is more likely to pick things up by doing, and unless you want to do an experiment over weeks, months or even years these "simulator" type games will teach them quicker what will happen. Children need to know why, for example if it has been proven that you can turn lead into gold, but this process takes 100 years, a child would grasp this much easier by seeing it done, however as it takes 100 years thats impossible, here enters the simulator games and I personally think it would make it a lot easier to understand. I dont think that computer "games" should ever replace books, as a book lover and computer game lover myself, I know it is possible to enjoy these two things, there just needs to be a line, and only educational games should be brought into schools, as we all know that Doom isnt going to teach the kids anything. But then comes the dilemma, which games are educational and which are not. Ok we can safely say games like Doom arent educational, but what about The Sims, doesnt this teach children how to budget, and about economy, but would I class this as educational?? Id say not, so who and how is it decided what we allow them to use in schools and what is kept at home?

Lemond
Lemond

stop killing trees!

spencemeister
spencemeister

Kids learn naturally when they are motivated to do so. My daughter learned the value of college when she found she hated her job and many opportunities were closed to her. My granddaughter is naturally curious and reads amazingly well, because we read to her. She learned about budgets when she had to shop at ToysRUs with only $20. I got to learn what marginal value and marginal utility mean to a six-year-old. If you want to teach a teenager the value of fractions, give her $20 and take her to the horse race track. She'll learn why fractions are important in two races. If learning algebra or calculus will help a student build a stronger character in a fantasy world, you can bet they'll learn it. Of course you can't replace books. There's something magical about holding a book in your hand and reading it. Parents who don't read to their kids are simply not doing their job.

GSG
GSG

So when these kids graduate, if they do, and they go to work, should the employer provide video games to help them work? Need to understand a whitepaper? Make it a video game? Come on people! Real life is not a video game. I managed to learn quite well without them, and in the process learned that sometimes there are things that we must do that aren't that exciting, but we have to do them, and do them to the best of our ability. The people who haven't learned that are the ones that are always gone, or do a half-a$$ed job at work.

DanLM
DanLM

;o) Tag, your it. dan

unhappyuser
unhappyuser

Trees are renewable and don't poison the environment like discarded electronic games do. I am a parent and was a School Board member. I believe computers, calculators and games have a place in school BUT they must be strategically placed else they will be used as crutches instead of tools. We need to get back to the basics so children have a solid educational base to grow on. If a student can't divide 30 by 6 or spell common words how can they learn more complicated subjects? In the era where computer programs are doing the work for them, students should be learning how it's done and not let the equipment do the work for them (e.g. designing web pages). We're behind other countries because we've become lazy and are letting the machines take over our lives. Seems like a sci-fi movie.... That's my take. What's yours?

unhappyuser
unhappyuser

She's doing the right thing - integrating computers into her coursework and not letting them take it completely over. In our school there are a lot of teachers that are afraid of them (won't use them at all) or go all out and use them as babysitters. Want to move to VT?

DanLM
DanLM

She loves them not because of the 'ewww, computers in the classroom'. But the assistance they give her in reviewing various assignments that she passe's out. Laura is someone that has found a knack to mix the various subjects that need to be taught into one lesson so that the children can see the skills used in a realistic fashion. Example: She had the children write books on their favorite characters from the Revolutionary war, with these books containing illustrations(that the children did) and other things. Presentation skills, writing skills, art skills... All wrapped up in one project. She also goads the coach's to use things like the various statistics from national/college sports in what they teach the children. Math skills. She is a firm believer that teachers of different subject matters can help each other in the way the assignments are passed out. Ie, lesson plan done in a way so that more then one subject matter is used to complete a given project. The electronic white boards gives her another tool in pulling things together in these lessons. Games, no. Computes in schools to assist the basic edecutation. yes. As a side note, what the bloody hell is she doing with a dummy like me that lives by spell check. Dan